Category Archives: reading disabilities

Colleges offer remedial reading and writing courses, but too late for most students

Many community colleges and four-year colleges in the US offer remedial reading and writing classes to incoming freshmen to raise lagging students to the base level expected for beginning freshmen.  These remedial courses offer no credit, so by the end of freshman year, students who pass these classes will not have accumulated the 30 or so credit hours expected for the first year of college education.  These students’ chances of graduating in two years from community colleges and four years from traditional colleges and universities are almost impossible.  And this means that many poor readers and writers drop out and never earn a college degree.

Colleges and universities are rethinking their remedial English courses for many reasons.

  • These remedial courses, in both English and math, cost about $7 billion each year.

 

  • Few freshmen who require remedial courses ever earn a degree.

 

  • 96% of two- and four-year colleges and universities enroll students in remedial courses.

 

  • In one state, California, more than 70% of community college students qualify for remedial English courses, and of those, only 60% pass the remedial courses and start credit courses, according to a 2016 study by the Public Policy Institute of California. Of those 60% who do pass, most never finish a college level English course with a C grade or better.  California is pretty typical of the rest of the country.

 

  • Starting in the fall of 2018, all such remedial courses will be eliminated at California State University, the largest public university system in the US. The stated purpose is to enable more students to graduate in four years.

 

What does this mean if you are teaching a young child to read?

Reading and writing are two of the most make-it or break-it life skills.  If a little kid is having trouble, now is the time to intervene.  The longer a student flounders, the more he falls behind and the less likely he is to catch up, even with help.  By the time a student reaches college, high school, or even middle school, it’s usually too late.  The time to learn to read and write is when a child is four, five, six and seven years old.

If you want your children to succeed, do whatever is necessary to ensure that they can read by the time they start third grade.

Kids who retain primitive reflexes can have reading, writing problems

Babies are born with primitive reflexes—automatic physical responses that increase their chances of being born properly and of surviving infancy.  These same primitive reflexes, if they persist beyond the first few months of life, can indicate poor physical functioning in the toddler, and reading and handwriting problems for the young child.

Some common primitive reflexes include:

Moro Reflex (or startle reflex):  This reflex has three parts.  First, the baby rapidly extends his arms.  Then, just as rapidly, he pulls his arms close to his trunk.  Lastly, he cries.  When a baby feels he is falling or losing his balance, he displays this reflex.  It is the baby’s way of showing fear.  The Moro reflex shows for the first four months of life and then subsides.  If it persists beyond four or five months, the child may show sensory processing problems, anxiety, balance and coordination difficulties, poor muscle tone, motion sickness and poor impulse control.

ATNR:  The asymmetrical tonic neck reflex shows when a new baby moves her head from one side to another.  If her head turns to one side, her arm and leg on that side extend into a straight position while her arm and leg on the opposite side bend.  The ATNR reflex is sometimes called the fencing reflex because the baby takes the same pose as a fencer.  This reflex develops before birth and helps the baby navigate through the birth canal.  Usually it disappears by six months, but if it continues, it could show as several problems.

  • Handwriting can be difficult because each time the child turns her head, the hand on that side will want to straighten and the grip on the pencil will loosen. Children compensate by holding their pencils tightly, causing stress in the hand.  They focus on the physical process of holding a pencil rather than on the ideas they are writing.  The handwriting might slope every which way.
  • Reading can be difficult because of eye tracking problems. Instead of moving smoothly across a page of text, the eyes jump.  The child might lose her place and lose comprehension.
  • Mixed laterality can show as a child not developing a dominant hand for writing, holding utensils and catching a ball, and not developing a dominant foot for kicking, walking and running. The brain is more efficient if one side dominates.  Otherwise both sides compete for dominance.  Poor coordination can result.

STNR:  The symmetrical tonic neck reflex shows between six and eight months of age.  When a child is on his tummy, this reflex allows the child to straighten his arms and bend his legs in order to crawl.  This reflex is needed for crawling and for developing hand-eye coordination.  As the child grows, the STNR reflex allows the child to read without losing his place and to follow his hand with his eyes while writing.

TLR:  The tonic labyrinthine reflex causes the baby’s arms and legs to extend when the baby’s head turns up, and causes the arms and legs to fold when the head bends down.  This reflex helps a baby to crawl.  Children with poor posture, or who walk on their toes, or who have trouble playing with a ball may have this reflex persisting long after four months of age.  If it persists it can also interfere with speaking because the tongue wants to extend.

Spinal Galant Reflex:  When an infant’s skin is stroked on the side of her back, she will tend to move toward the stroked side.  This helps during birth but usually disappears by nine months.  If not, problems could include an inability to sit still; a dislike of tight clothing, especially around the waist; bed wetting; and poor short term memory, making reading comprehension difficult.

My son’s kindergarten reading teacher says he won’t talk. He talks at home, but he is really shy. What’s going on?

It helps to know the reason for the speechlessness so that your son’s teacher will know how to modify her teaching style to make the student and teacher comfortable.  Since he has normal speech at home, perhaps he is selectively mute.

EPSON MFP image

Selectively mute children might be speechless all the time or only in social situations which make them afraid.  They might show anxiety, excessive shyness, fear of social embarrassment and withdrawal.  Symptoms* include

  • “consistent failure to speak in specific social situations (in which there is an expectation for speaking, such as at school) continues despite speaking in other situations.
  • “not speaking interferes with school or work, or with social communication.
  • “not speaking lasts at least one month (not limited to the first month of school).
  • “failure to speak is not due to a lack of knowledge of, or comfort, with the spoken language required in the social situation
  • “not speaking is not due to a communication disorder (e.g., stuttering).”

Ask that your son be evaluated by a speech pathologist.  But also have his hearing tested.  Sometimes persistent middle ear infections can make hearing hard.

After you have pinpointed the problem as much as possible, then you can plan how to make your son verbal in school.  This may take several professionals working together—the school psychologist, the speech pathologist, his teacher, you and possibly his pediatrician.

In the meantime, inform his reading teacher that you are following up on her observation.  Ask her to accept that this behavior is normal for him right now.  Ask her to find nonverbal ways for him to respond and participate in group activities until an intervention plan gets underway.

*According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

How teachers can better deal with sensory integration issues

Many school teachers think that the more wall space covered with sight words, the ABC’s, classroom rules, maps, posters, the periodic table, steps in the writing process, and photos of fossils the better students can learn.

hard books, easy book because of white space, graphics

Not so.  At least, not so for students with sensory integration issues.  For them the information  meant to help instead distracts and makes focusing difficult.

What can teachers do to modify their classrooms so children can focus better?

  • First, assume sensory integration (SI) issues are as real as the problems of a child needing glasses or using crutches. To get the best possible learning from SI children, meet their needs.
  • Leave plenty of “white” space on the walls. Just as white space on a page of print encourages reading, white or blank space on classroom walls lessens distractions and encourages learning.
  • Limit wall decorations—especially graphic or vivid decorations—to the back of the room where students are not barraged by them. When students face forward, they should see the teacher, the board and the clock, but not distractions.
  • Make sure every student sits in a desk chair which allows the student’s feet—toes and heels—to touch the floor without straining. Children forced to sit in chairs too big for them are uncomfortable, and that discomfort distracts them from learning.
  • Leave elbow space next to every student desk. A student who must sit with both sides of her desk touching another desk can feel claustrophobic, making learning hard.  At the very least, put only two student desks together.
  • Don’t place students so that they face other students.
  • Leave space before and behind a student’s desk so that he can comfortably push back his chair or enter and leave his desk without bumping into another student’s desk. Leave enough space so another student’s feet can’t touch the chair ahead from behind.
  • When students sit cross-legged in a group, if a student wants to sit at the rear, allow it. If a student wants to stand at the back of the line, allow it.  Students sensitive to touch will be grateful and you will have fewer fights and less fidgeting.
  • If a student is concerned about the condition of a used book—ripped or folded pages, highlighting, doodling in margins—assume the concern is real and will interfere with learning. Find a book in better condition.
  • If students share pencils from a classroom bin, assign someone to sharpen them daily or twice daily. Writing with sharp points not only looks better but encourages students to do well.  Dull points can really annoy students with sensory integration issues.
  • Instruct students to use indoor voices in the classroom.

Let students know they can approach you if they have SI issues.  Ask them how they would solve a problem.  Many times they have already figured out how to live with SI.

Helping a child with sensory integration issues

Sometimes what we think is a reading problem is really a sensory integration problem.

child tired, cold, hungry with mother

Sensory integration means sorting through all the input from our senses—what we see, hear, smell, taste or feel—into a meaningful message in our brains. Sometimes too much sensory data clogs our brains, causing problems. On an airplane, for example, some of us can easily tune out the baby crying and the plane bumping through clouds.  But others are ready to scream.

A child might show sensory integration issues if the cat is purring is too loudly.  Or the new shoes are too tight.  The bath towel is too scratchy.  The banana texture is too squishy.  Bathtub bubbles hurt .  The label inside the T-shirt tickles.

If you child has sensory integration issues here’s how you can help her focus when reading:

  • Motion: Make sure she is sitting in a still, comfortable place where she is less likely to fidget.  No gliders or swings.  Not in the back seat of a moving car.  Make sure her feet are supported.
  • Sound: Eliminate noise distractions.  Turn off the TV and radio.  Put the dog in his cage.  Stop the washing machine.  Seclude your child to the quietest part of the house.  If there is still noise, turn on your hair dryer or your vacuum cleaner to provide constant, steady “white” noise which obscures background sounds.  One of those recordings of waves or a mother’s heartbeat meant for new babies might also help.
  • Sight: Face a plain painted wall if possible.  No wallpaper with designs.  Draw the blinds.  Surround the child with calm, soothing colors like pastels, whites or tans.  No oranges, reds or bright pinks.  Choose picture books with plainer backgrounds so the child’s eyes know what to focus on.
  • Touch: Dress the child in soft, comfortable, nonbinding clothes.  Remove shoes and socks.  Have her sit on a smooth or pillowy surface—nothing scratchy.  If you are with her, cuddle if she likes but keep some distance if she prefers not to be touched.
  • A trick an occupational therapist taught me: To settle the child, scratch her back for a few minutes.  Begin at the neck and scratch straight down the backbone—not sideways and not from the bottom up, but from the top of the spine to just below the waist.  Scratch with your nails hard enough for the child not to feel tickled but not roughly enough to hurt.  (This is a great technique to help a baby relax to fall asleep, too.)

In the next blog we’ll talk about some modifications a teacher can make to a classroom to help children with sensory integration issues to prevail in school.

 

Facing dyslexia in a preschooler

So you suspect your preschooler has dyslexia.  What can you do?

  • Realize that the younger a child is when identified as dyslexic, the sooner help can begin. If possible, you want to identify the situation before the child becomes frustrated and discouraged, and before the child is labeled as “different.”child making letter T with his body
  • Ask your school district to test the child. Because of the child’s age, the district might balk, and say he will be tested when in kindergarten, or first grade, or later.  Sometimes the district will become involved if you have some “proof” that the child is dyslexic.  This might require private testing at your expense by some recognized expert.
  • From the school district, find out what services your child will receive and when.baby reading a book
  • If the school district “officially” won’t help, make an appointment with your elementary school’s reading specialist. She will probably have ideas you can start with, and she might be able to lend you materials or at least identify materials that will help.
  • Consider hiring a reading tutor, one with experience teaching children with dyslexia. A good tutor will use many strategies, particularly game-like, hands-on approaches that will appeal to a preschooler.boy sees a T in STOP
  • If someone else in the immediate family has dyslexia, there’s a good chance your child has the same kind of reading problem and can be helped the same way. What worked for your other relative?
  • Check out ideas on the internet. Use keywords such as dyslexia, preschooler, reading and learning strategies.
  • Begin working with your child yourself. Focus on the sounds of the language first, and make sure your child can hear them and pronounce them properly.  Only then match sounds with letters.mother works with child reading story book
  • Is letter recognition difficult? Buy an ABC puzzle or letter tiles or a Scrabble game.  Use the letters to play games forcing the child to identify letters.  Unfortunately, most sources for letters use only capital letters, and it is generally lower case letters which cause problems.
  • Work on printing letters properly. If fine motor coordination is difficult, use a computer keyboard instead.  But again, most keyboards identify the keys with capital letters.Mother shows child spelling of her name Kelly
  • Use music. Teach your child the ABC song.  Sing songs together which rhyme or read nursery rhymes.
  • Teach directions. Up, down. Left, right.  Inside, outside.
  • You may find it takes longer for your dyslexic child to master certain skills when compared to a child without reading difficulties. Be patient.  If a younger sibling is catching on faster than the dyslexic child, work with each child independently and out of earshot from one another.  If at all possible, conceal from your child that he is having reading difficulties.  Find ways for him to succeed at learning.A teacher says the first part of a rhyme, and the child says the rest of it.

How about pulling your child out of preschool, or stopping all reading instruction for a year or until the child is seven or until the child reaches first grade?  These are not good solutions.  In pre-K students are expected to know their letter sounds and to match them with ABC’s.  In kindergarten children are expected to read CVC words, high frequency words, and some two-syllable words.  A child who can’t keep up with his classmates develops low self-esteem which can intensify reading problems.

Be proactive.  If you think your three or four-yer-old shows signs of reading difficulty, act as soon as possible for the best outcome.

Can dyslexia be identified in a preschooler who can’t read yet?

Yes.  Check this list of indicators developed by Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey.  But keep in mind that a child exhibiting one or two of the indicators isn’t necessarily dyslexic.  For example, almost all children learning their letters mix up b and d.  But a child EPSON MFP imageshowing several of the indicators might foreshadow problems learning to read or spell.  That child should be tested.

Dyslexia is defined as a neurological learning disability.  Children having difficulty with word recognition, fluency, poor spelling or decoding might be dyslexic.  The sooner it can be identified in a child, and the earlier intervention can begin, the better the chances that the child will learn to read.

A key indicator is family history.  If a parent or a sibling has had trouble learning to read, there is a greater chance that another member of the family will have trouble.

According to Decoding Dyslexia, New Jersey, Language indicators could include:

  • delayed speech
  • trouble learning the alphabet, numbers, and days of the week
  • difficulty rapidly naming people and objects
  • lack of interest in stories and books
  • mispronouncing words
  • difficulty using new vocabulary words correctly
  • trouble distinguishing words from other words that sound similar
  • struggling to identify or produce words that rhyme

Reading indicators could include:

  • difficulty naming and recognizing the letters of the alphabet
  • problems matching letters to their correct sounds
  • scoring below expected reading level for his/her age
  • trouble understanding the difference between sounds in words
  • difficulty blending letter sounds within words
  • trouble recognizing and remembering sight words
  • confusing letters and words that look similar
  • losing his/her place—and skipping over words—while reading
  • avoiding reading tasks

Writing indicators could include:

  • problems copying and writing at an age-appropriate level
  • confusing the order or direction of letters, numbers and symbols
  • spelling words incorrectly and inconsistently most of the time
  • a tendency to spell phonetically
  • poor ability to proofread and correct written work
  • handwriting which shows poor letter formation and placement

Social / emotional indicators could include:

  • Lack of motivation about school or learning
  • lack of confidence in learning
  • negative self-image compared to grade-level peers
  • expressing dislike for reading and other academic tasks
  • exhibiting anxiety or frustration

Other indicators could include:

  • poor sense of direction/spatial concepts, such as left and right
  • performing inconsistently on daily tasks
  • appearing distracted and unfocused

If your child shows some of these characteristics, don’t be discouraged.  Most children show some of them.  And if your child is dyslexic, there is so much you, as a parent, can do to prepare your preschooler to read fluently.  In the next blog we’ll identify some of those activities.